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Sanders alone in airing TV ads in Red River Valley

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders pauses while speaking at a campaign rally in Columbia, South Carolina February 26, 2016. REUTERS

GRAND FORKS—Television viewers in the Red River Valley have seen a fairly one-sided presidential debate play out during commercial breaks this month.

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator seeking the Democratic nomination for president, is the only candidate from either party spending money--more than $80,000--to run ads on major TV stations in the area, according to federal records. The ads have been running in the weeks leading up to Tuesday's caucuses in Minnesota.

"We are working hard to get our message out to every corner of Minnesota ahead of the caucus on March 1, including in the Red River Valley," Robert Dempsey, the campaign's state director in Minnesota, said in a statement. "We believe Bernie Sanders' experience representing a rural state, as well as his stance on issues like trade, living wage jobs, and the rural economy, will resonate with voters in the Red River Valley."

As of Friday morning, the Sanders campaign agreed to spend roughly $46,000 to advertise on KVLY, the NBC affiliate in Fargo, and more than $20,000 to run ads on ABC affiliate stations WDAY and WDAZ this month. The latter two stations are owned by Forum Communications Co.

To advertise on CBS affiliate KX4, it will pay roughly $13,000, and roughly $4,300 for advertising on KVRR, the FOX affiliate in Fargo, according to records on the Federal Communications Commission website.

Those stations reach viewers in Minnesota, a state that could prove critical to Sanders' hopes of winning the party's nomination over Hillary Clinton, one political expert said.

David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, said both Democratic candidates have been "bombarding" TV viewers in the Twin Cities with campaign ads, while Republicans have been noticeably absent from the airwaves there. He said Sanders' spending to reach Minnesotans outside of the metro suggests he's trying to "shore up" support.

"I think he has to win Minnesota," Schultz said, predicting Sanders will have a tougher time in Southern states. The senator also made a campaign stop Friday in Hibbing in northeast Minnesota.

But while Sanders is alone in advertising with major eastern North Dakota stations, Clinton and Republican candidates have purchased television air time in other corners of Minnesota, FCC records show.

And though Sanders' ads appear to be targeting Minnesotans ahead of Tuesday's caucuses, they're also reaching North Dakotans. North Dakota will select delegates to the Democratic National Convention on June 18 after legislative district caucuses earlier that month, according to information provided by state party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen.

Bo Wood, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said North Dakota's political history may align with Sanders' populist tones.

"There's also a kind of strong populist streak that we've also had," he said, pointing to North Dakota's state-owned institutions. "There's a populism that percolates in the conservatism of North Dakota."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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